community · Creativity, · faith · Following Jesus · music · Poetry · Political · Truth · World Affairs

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers,

So – we’ve had a series on church on the different aspects of service that people might be called to. See above.

I was with a group yesterday and we were talking about what an evangelist is. Essentially someone who shares their faith with others. But what struck me as we were talking was the importance of listening to each of these ways of serving.

Apostles are the people who are out in front of a new venture. I was talking to Emma and her husband Andy on Sunday – Emma runs something called the Long Table in Matson (Gloucester), and they were telling me that they spent a long time listening to the community in Matson before setting up the Long Table project.

Prophets are the ones who speak truth to power. Often but not exclusively people involved in the arts – musicians, poets, artists and so on. They are listening carefully to be attuned to what’s going on around them in the world. Movements in the political and cultural sphere; aspects of church that are in danger of, or already have gone off track.

Evangelists sometimes get it wrong by just speaking louder ! To share faith with another human being requires respect and careful listening. Talking with, not talking at.

Pastors are those who have a deep concern for the well being of others. What they offer needs to be connected to the need of the other, not the need of the one offering support. Listening is crucial.

Teachers also sometimes get it wrong – maybe they pitch what they’re trying to communicate at the wrong level, or are just out of sync with those who are learning. Perhaps we should think of this as creating a space for learning. Again, listening to the ones who are learning will help to get this right.

This all might seem glaringly obvious, but it struck me how central listening is to any kind of activity within a community, be that a family, a business, a church, or whatever …

The other thing that I’ve noticed as we’ve been working through this at church is that although some people have a particular ‘gift’ for working in a specific area, all of these ways of serving are open to any of us. So ….

Get your creative juices going and try something new
Try to be informed about what’s going on in the world – but it can be tricky to know who’s truth telling …
Think about your passions and who might be interested in sharing that passion
Think about the people in your networks, and how you can be a caring presence
We all have wisdom, knowledge and experience to share with others … how’s that going ?

But don’t burn out ! Maybe at some point you’ll notice an area where you shine, and you can give the major part of your energy to that.

Grace and peace.

Bible · Creativity, · Political

Lessons For A Free People

Since my last post, I’ve listened to more from Ched Myers on Sabbath Economics.

The fundamental thought here is based on a reading of the whole of scripture, First and Second Testament. (or Old and New)
Ched Myers traces his proposition back to the experience of Israel after being freed from slavery in Egypt. In the years that followed the Exodus from Egypt, the story describes how God provided for Israel through the gift of Manna. Each day this food would appear like dew on the ground. There would be enough for everyone. But they were commanded not to try and keep it overnight as it would spoil. Each day there would be a new provision. In addition, they were instructed that once a week, they were to gather enough food for two days, giving one day of rest each week – this was the Sabbath day. From this experience, they were to understand a new way of living that was not based on the predatory economy that the had known in Egypt.
The story of manna in the wilderness gives us three lessons for a free people.

Lesson 1. There is enough for everyone. No one has too much and no one has too little.
Those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little had enough.

Lesson 2. There will be enough tomorrow.
Abundance does not mean accumulation. Just because there is an abundance of resources does not give us the permission to keep on accumulating. An economy based on amassing more and more only leads to the more wealthy having control over resources which inevitably leads to inequality.

Lesson 3. Stop. Take a break.
The instruction not to gather one day a week was to do with stopping what would otherwise be an endless cycle of work and production, such as they had known in Egypt. The Sabbath principle was also extended to letting land lie fallow every seventh year, and after 7 times 7 years there would be a jubilee year every 50 years when there was a redistribution of land and wealth.

The commandment to keep Sabbath is instituted before the giving of the Ten Commandments. Then after Moses receives the Ten Commandments there is a reminder to keep Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath is both the beginning and end of Torah. “It is the bedrock of a culture of restraint.”

Lesson 1 is about abundance – enough for all.
Lesson 2 is about avoiding the wealth disparity that comes from accumulation
Lesson 3 is about the need to challenge an economy that never takes a break, but rather live in such a way that in the long term wealth is distributed fairly.

In our world, we have forgotten these lessons, we just don’t get it. We do not live by these instructions, but live largely with an economy that is diametrically opposed to the principles set out for Israel in the story of manna in the wilderness … “our economy being based on private wealth, accumulated welath, and no limits to production or consumption.”

It’s interesting that these lessons are so foundational for Israel, and revisited by Jesus in the feeding of the 5000. This story in Mark chapter 6 also takes place in the wilderness (a remote place). It concerns food, and the need for all to be fed. Jesus turns first to the disciples, who immediately think of buying food (even though they acknowledge that solution as impractical, it is their first thought). They are short on ideas. Then, in Ched Myers reading, Jesus, as community organiser, sees that there is capacity there already and enables the food that is there in the crowd to be distributed so that all have enough. “Only cooperation can turn market scarcity into shared sufficiency.”

As Ched Myers traces what he calls “Sabbath Economics” through the pages of the Bible, we come to the account of the last Supper, where Mark records Jesus using exactly the same words as are recorded at the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Before the food is shared we read: “Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it … “

Surely the same words are used here to link the Last Supper with the Feeding of the Five Thousand. What Jesus is doing here is a final reminder to the disciples that this is how they are to live – by the principles that were first established in the Sinai wilderness.

And when we come to the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see that they did remember … “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:44-45.

So …..

An online group that I recently joined spent some time listening to Ched Myers, and thinking about ‘Sabbath Economics.” Among a range of subjects, including Food Banks and other attempts to promote food sovereignty (where everyone has enough) we wondered what a communion liturgy based on these principles might look like.

That’s for next time.

Grace and Peace

Please note. All quotations are from Ched Myers – Studies in Mark III: Sabbath Economics & Eucharist (Mk 6)
Go to the BartCast and look for Ched Myers Bartcast 05

Bible · Church · community · Creativity, · faith · Storytelling

I Have A Better Idea

First, a disclaimer – the ‘I’ in the title of this post is not me, in case you were thinking – what an arrogant … !

I love the way that things sometimes come together. This week a whole load of stuff has been converging for me.
Let me start with a list:
Pioneer Practice – a series of webinars hosted by the Church Mission Society and HeartEdge
Article from around 1995 in SEEN newspaper. (Newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of York)
Ched Myers on Mark chapter 6 – The feeding of the 5,000
John chapter 2 – Water into Wine
An article in the Church Times by Canon David Power
‘Total Ministry’ in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

Pioneer Practice
The series of webinars mentioned is about gathering the experience of ‘Pioneers’ across various Christian denominations in the UK. Jonny Baker, who works for the Church Mission Society training pioneers is the host of the webinar, which is paired with the book Pioneer Practice. Yesterday’s session was all about seeing differently.
Attendees were asked to think about these three aspects of working – Imagination, Knowledge and Skills.
What would be the order of importance of these for you ?
Most of those present had Imagination as the first. That’s why they are on a pioneer webinar, because pioneers tend to have the imagination to see things differently.

When we are confronted with a situation that we can’t understand or see a way to make progress, we often have to employ our imagination to get started. Try to see in a different way.

One of the ways that we might be challenged to see things differently is in situations where we see a need and want to do something about it. Often we might only see what is lacking, and look for ways to help by problem solving or acts of compassion.
But what if, instead of seeing what is lacking, we were to look for what is already there, and celebrate it.
This is the heart of the work of Chris and Anna Hembury who are Pioneers with the Church Mission Society in Hull.

Look for the Light that is here
Back in the 90’s, we were living and working in East Hull. At the time, as I remember it, one of the churches in another part of Hull was starting a new congregation on the Longhill Estate in East Hull. Their expressed aim was to ‘Bring the Christian Gospel to Longhill.’ An article in SEEN newspaper, written by a Christian who lived in Longhill, said something like this: ‘Don’t come to bring The Light to Longhill, come and see what is already here.’
(A well known way of working that uses this principle is ABCD – Asset Based Community Development.’)

Ched Myers
I’ve been listening to Ched Myers talking about Mark’s Gospel. Today was the story of the feeding of the 5,000.
If you know that story, I wonder how you have understood it ?
I see three ways to read this –
1. Jesus miraculously multiplies 5 loaves and two fish.
2. The disciples use their common purse to rush off to a local village and buy enough food for the crowd.
3. The crowd share the food that they have with them.

And for each of these three ways of seeing the miracle, I see a way of understanding our life together as Christian communities.
1. The charismatic church leader who seems to be able to do everything really well, and is a total inspiration
2. The leadership team that work together to serve a largely passive congregation.
3. The congregation that is active in loving and serving one another, and are a sign of God’s kingdom.

In Ched Myers’ reading of Mark chapter 6, it goes something like this:
Disciples: Why not send the people away to buy food. (But actually it’s late in the day … and this is a crowd with likely many poor people who might not have the resources to buy food).
Jesus: Why don’t you give them something to eat.
Disciples. Where would we get enough food to feed this crowd ? It would take half a year’s wages !( The disciples see the lack, not what is already there).
Jesus: I have a better idea ….

What follows is a superb example of community organising, where Jesus uses the lunch that the young boy has to teach the crowd to see what they already have, and use their resources for the benefit of everyone.

This way of seeing the Gospel will not go down well with everyone ! In our churches, we have usually understood this story as an example of miraculous multiplication. Maybe like me, you have often wondered about that intepretation, been aware of the other possibility of the crowd sharing what they had, but reluctant to abandon the ‘miraculous’ way of reading it. But perhaps Ched Myers’ way of reading it is more consonant with a Gospel that liberates people to a life of mutual care. Ched Myers would also go further and say that this interpretation subverts a whole economy that is based on self interest, and moves towards a community of solidarity.

Water into Wine
Just a brief thought about this passage. (In which wine runs out at a wedding and Jesus performs a miracle turning water into wine … a lot of wine !)
There are a range of characters here: Jesus; his mother; the disciples; the servants; the guests; the master of ceremonies. Jesus directs the action, telling the servants to fill 6 large jars with water, which, when it is tasted by the master of ceremonies, has become wine.
Notice that it is the servants who fill the water jars. The word in Greek that is used here – diakonoi – is the word that means ‘one who serves’, and is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament, but often to do with those who are committed to following Jesus, part of the Christian community and and serving God with their gifts and their time.
The servants who fill the water jars are towards the bottom of the social ladder, but are remembered here for being intrumental in the miracle that saves the day. Note again, that although the story starts with an apparent lack of resources, as it turns out, the resources are there.

Church Times article
This appeared just last week, and comes at a time when the church seems to be defined in our minds by what is lacking. Lack of money, lack of clergy, lack of people, lack of everything. And, however much we try to tell ourselves that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, which should trump all that we’re lacking, that doesn’t seem to help.
The article, which you can read here (hopefully, as long as the link works) is suggesting that it’s high time the Church of England ditched the centrality of stipendiary (paid) ministry and moved to a different way of seeing.
(A radical move of this kind will look for imagination from our bishops, and by the way, the word for bishop in Greek is episkope – which essentially means someone with imagination, someone who is able to see the big picture, and able to see things in a different way).

The force of the article by David Power is that market forces are driving the church to ever increasing desperate measures. Lack of money forces parishes to combine, giving clergy multiple churches to lead, while congregations diminish year on year. This vicious spiral demands a new way of seeing, which probably should have been the norm all along.

The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan
A church that is going down this new route is the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan in the USA. It’s an evolving pattern that allows churches, when they are ready, to call leaders from among their own congregations. Each congregation will prayerfully choose those from among them to serve in a number of ways – as Preachers; Those who will preside at Holy Communion; Teaching the faith; Giving pastoral care; Engaging in mission to their local community … and so on. Each congregation would have a degree of autonomy (as they do now), but still be part of the wider network of a diocese, and financial resources would be directed to giving support and training to congregations. I found it inspiring to read the srticle by David Power and the way this is being lived out in the diocese of Michigan

To conclude, what I have seen here in this variety of ways is all about seeing in a different way. And particularly looking – not at what is lacking, but at the treasure that is already there.
It’s about the potential of every situation to be a place of growth and learning if we can look beyond the obvious to see what is right in front of us.

And almost certainly, this will come to pass as we tell stories of what we see happening around us when we have encountered a situation that we can’t understand, but begun to trust that there is the possibility of transformation. And in the telling of those stories, we will see signs of healing and grace, and be encouraged to continue looking for the treasure that is among us.

Grace and peace.

Church · community · Creativity, · faith · Worship

Set Piece And Open Play

We’ve been watching some of the Football World Cup qualifiers in the last few days, as well as the Autumn Nations series of Rugby Union. On Sunday we were with friends at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff watching an unconvincing Wales team beat Fiji, largely because Fiji were reduced to 14 for much of the game as a result of a red card, and down to 13 for 20 minutes because of two yellow cards.

Having said that, it’s always great fun watching them play, the crowd are amazing, and there were some standout moments. We felt drawn in to the occasion, cheering, singing and shouting until we were hoarse; smiling at the Fijian family behind us as they cheered for a Fiji try; standing up to see the action at the far end of the pitch, just out of our eyeline.

It got me thinking about Rugby, Football (Soccer) and Church, and a possible analogy between what kind of play is going on in sport (Set piece / Open play) and what kind of expression of worship is going on in a church service.

For example – a set piece could be a free kick, or a corner in soccer (or a minor set piece would be a goal kick or throw in). A set piece in Rugby is a scrum or a line out or a penalty. How you work with the set piece depends on where it is on the pitch, what stage of the game you’re at etc. Goals and Tries often come from set pieces. You admire the skill of the free kick taker as they propel the ball so that it loops into the penalty area, just out of reach of the goalie, for an attacker to launch themselves into the air and head the ball into the top corner of the goal.

But then there’s open play – the moment in a game of rugby when your heart is in your mouth as the ball spins from the scrum halve’s hands along the line to the centres, one of whom places a kick that will fly with pin point accuracy and be caught by the winger who dodges the defending players and touches down another try. There will be mistakes and loose balls; crunching tackles and sidesteps; rucks and mauls; (don’t ask me to explain) …. It can be exciting or it can be tedious, but always with the possibility of something surprising that will turn a game around.

In Church, a set piece could be a sermon or the communion prayer, with shorter set pieces being a reading or someone leading some prayers. You admire the way that the preacher takes a passage from scripture and draws from the text something beautiful, something that sums up in a few words what you recognise as exactly what you would say if you could. You watch the person presiding at the Holy Table, and see the way their words and actions go through the drama of salvation and include us in the story.

But I sense in the worship the possibility also of open play. Contributions that come from the interaction in the moment and from the participation and involvement of the congregation. The smile between two friends who haven’t seen one another for a few weeks; the exuberance of the child running around the outer ring of chairs, as if it’s a racetrack; The voice behind me as we sing the opening hymn, lifting the praise to a new level; the moment at the end of the service when someone tells us about their life between Sundays – we’ll be praying for them this week especially; the invitation from the preacher to respond to the reading from the Gospel with our own experiences, that earth everything into daily life. The tears of someone recently bereaved who in their vulnerability allow us also to open our lives to one another.

On a bad day, we leave disconnected, uninvolved, feeling that we were just spectators when we wanted to be more a part of things. But on a good day, the interplay between set piece and open play can seem almost magical and we leave inspired, uplifted, amazed; buzzing with the mysterious feeling that we have somehow been involved in the action ourselves, and been touched by a presence that defies logic and planning, and brings us back next week for more.


I’m Not Able To Visualise

I’ve been a bit frustrated recently. I’ve had so many ideas buzzing round in my head, but just not able to get my thoughts into a coherent shape. I think I’m trying too hard. I need to focus more on my own experience, rather than regurgitating titbits from other people. At least, that’s how it feels today. So here’s something I’ve discovered about myself this week …

Our daughter sent us a thing from twitter

The question was … if you were to visualise an apple, would you see it clearly like number 1 above, or not at all like number 5, or somewhere in between ?

My wife immediately said she could see it clearly with detail. I said – ‘What, like a photo ?’ – ‘Yes’ she said
Me: But I don’t ‘see’ anything. I can imagine what an apple looks like, but I can’t see it! So can you see other things as well ?
Her: Yes.
Me: Wow! That’s amazing.

I suppose I might be a 4, but definitely not a 1, a 2, or a 3.

Weirdly, in the 40 years we have been together, this has never come up.

So I then asked her about hearing things.
Me: Can you hear people’s voices in your head ?
Her: Oh yes.
Me: What, like hearing them speak in their own voice ?
Her: Yes.
Me: Wow ! That’s also amazing.

I think I’m a bit more able to do that, but it seems not as clearly as my wife.

b   .What I can hear – (it’s there all the time, but sometimes I’m not aware of it) – is tinitus, more in my left ear than my right.
But that’s different, and annoying rather than cool.

Now my memory is shocking. Some of it may be age related, but I’ve never been good at remembering details from my past. My childhood is an empty page, mostly. If I want to know something about my childhood, I have to ask my sisters.

Is that related ? The condition of not being able to visualise is called Aphantasia. Is it related to the ability to hold memories ?

It’s so interesting how we’re all different …

Art and Design · Bible · Church · Creativity, · Theology

Business As Usual ? Or Not ?

This morning, my daily prayer included these readings:
Genesis 13:2-18; Galatains 2:1-10 31 and Mark 7:31-37

The Genesis reading was about Abram and Lot (Genesis 13). At this point in the story, they both have considerable wealth – camels, sheep, goats etc. They realise that they it’s no longer sustainable for them to stay together. Their herders are beginning to fall out over where to graze their flocks, and they need more land.

So Abram decides that to avoid trouble, they must separate. By rights, Abram should have had the choice of where to go, and you might expect him to choose the best land. But he doesn’t. He gives Lot the choice, and Lot chooses the well watered plain of the river Jordan.

Abram’s generosity is rewarded as in the following verses we hear God reaffirming his promise to Abram, that his descendents will be numerous: “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

What you might expect to happen (Abram having the choice, and getting the best land) doesn’t.

Skip to my next reading today, from the New Testament book of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul is sharing his story with church leaders in Jerusalem – how he has been working with the non Jewish believers. The idea that Gentiles could become a full part of the early (Mainly Jewish) church without being circumcised was a new thing. Yet the leaders in Jerusalem have eventually reached a point of accepting Gentiles without requiring circumcision.

What you might expect to happen (circumcision) doesn’t.

And finally, in Mark’s Gospel chapter 7, we read of the healing of a deaf and dumb man. Ordinarily, the man would have been deaf for the rest of his life.

What you might expect to happen doesn’t.

God’s way of working is often to challenge what we would normally expect, and do something different.

Link to …. Creativity

For the last three Thursdays, I have been attending a webinar – Just Imagine. Four sessions on creativity. Last night’s session was about the role of play in creativity. Questioning what things are usually designed to do, and playfully imagining something different.

All too often we live according to norms and recipes with known outcomes. Playfulness challenges this with no fixed outcomes in mind. This approach to creativity often starts with a question … ‘What if …’

Maybe God was playful in creation … ‘What if we had cows as well as galaxies ?’

One of the ideas I was especially fascinated by was from architect Steve Collins, who wondered …What if churches were like dark kitchens, which are based on a delivery only model. So unlike a take away, there’s no contact directly with the customer. Getting food out to the customer has never been easier.

The ‘What if ?’ question may not lead immediately to a workable solution, but it’s likely that many of the great ideas have sprung from such questioning.

And going back to play being part of God’s nature, we wondered how good our churches are at play ?

Part of the play process might be to start with two apparently disconnected ideas, and then play around with them and see where that leads. Candlesticks and Electric Scooters – I wonder where that would go ? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything ??!!

So, I’m thinking now about the first part of this post – about God doing things that are unexpected, and the idea of asking ‘What if … ‘ Mmhhhh …. think on.

Grace and peace

Creativity, · Poetry · Prayer

Prayer Before A Locked Door

We met with some friends on Zoom yesterday to share some thoughts about writing our own psalms.
This is more of a poem than a prayer, but poems and prayers are often very similar

A lock – a lock of hair
a reminder of the first time that we cut her hair
kept in a small box
If I ever open the box,
the feeling is one of precious memory

A lock – on the canal, just down the road
I remember standing, watching an older couple
suddenly burst into action
she on the rudder
he on the bank, shoulder to the whatever you call it
opening the lock gate
to allow the journey to continue

A lock – a lock in actually
not that I’ve experienced one for a very long time
– a surreptitious gathering after closing time
when we were invited to stay
and have another drink, or two, or three, or more
feeling a sense of belonging on a Saturday night

A lock – something that stops you
you stand before it without the key
wanting to open that door
to see what’s on the other side
but you either can’t find the key
or maybe it’s genuinely lost for ever
or maybe it doesn’t even exist

A lock – a locket
contains something that’s close to your heart
it’s always there around my neck
even when that door is closed

Art and Design · community · Creativity, · Poetry · Prayers

Are You A Creative Person ?

If you saw my previous post – a photo of a padlock on a rotting wooden door … I wonder what it made you think of ?

On Thursday last week, I started on a four week exploration of creativity with Jonny Baker. It’s just an hour a week on Zoom to help get the creative brain working.

The first thing we were asked was – “Do you think of yourself as creative ?”
Then he asked – “Do you think that everyone is creative ?”

I wonder how you would answer ?

We then spent some time listening to three people, telling us a bit about their creative endeavours.

We were then asked to come up with some ideas about how to combat loneliness in our neighbourhood whilst this lockdown is going on. Within a minute the chat in Zoom was full of ideas.

I’m guessing that most of the 270 participants were churning out ideas … but how good to have other people thinking about it with you. We were encouraged to have a conversation with someone in the week – either carrying on the ideas about cobatting loneliness … or whatever …

On a similar track, together with a few friends, we’re sharing some ideas about psalm writing. The psalms is a book of prayers in the Bible, and one of our friends suggested we worked on writing some of our own. The psalms usually come out of some intense experience of life … I’m working on that today in preparation for the chat with our friends tomorrow when we share our thoughts.

Grace and peace.

By the way – Tomorrow I’ll post my morning prayer for Monday, and then post each day through this week.